The Council’s committees on aging and disabilities questioned Joseph Smith, senior vice president of New York City Transit (NYCT) Buses and Steve Lopiano, acting vice president of paratransit about service changes.
Forty percent of Access-A-Ride (AAR) customers have already experienced service changes and the MTA plans to expand the changes throughout the system next year.
The MTA plans to make 12 percent of paratransit trips using the feeder service, or 757,000 trips annually. Smith said the feeder service will include transportation to bus stops only and will apply solely to outbound trips, however the official policy includes subway stations as well and does not specify trip direction.
In July, the MTA has also began implementing a revised system for conditional eligibility based on weather, providing rides only when the temperature is below 39 degrees or above 90 degrees for customers who are eligible in extreme cold or heat. The MTA plans to reduce AAR service by 26,000 trips in the first year of trip-by-trip eligibility, which was used to deny 103 ride requests this summer. This will apply to 60,000 customers.
Appeals for trip-by-trip denials will go through the standard AAR appeals process. Smith said the MTA will also call denied customers back if the weather changes, and will take humidity and snow into account.
City Council Member James Vacca, chair of the Council’s transportation committee, expressed concern over a lack of public guidelines for the process. “It seems to me that the MTA is proceeding in a very vague manner. Much of it appears to me to be subjective. It’s not transparent to us as lawmakers,” he said.
Vacca also requested that the MTA mandate that all feeder trips utilize only the bus stops that have shelters and benches.
The MTA is also planning to expand its use of taxi and livery cab reimbursements for 75 percent of customers who do not require a lift to board vehicles. Four hundred customers will participate in a pilot program beginning in the next two months to take taxi rides with prepaid cards. However, Edith Prentiss, vice president of legislative affairs for Disabled in Action, raised concerns about customers with wheelchairs being unable to receive the same benefits.
“We’re going to be on the vans until we die,” said Prentiss. “I have questions about the legality of having to call two days in advance and people who can use taxis can use them right away.”
(Pictured: Joe Smith and Steve Lopiano.)
Prentiss also said that the fixed-route cuts have caused greater impacts to the disability community than AAR cuts, thereby increasing applications for paratransit but keeping the ridership rates consistent due to an increase in eligibility denials.
The MTA has promised to make eligibility testing more rigorous and Lopiano announced at the hearing that denials have risen from nine to 15 percent.
“We’re concerned that those tests for eligibility are going to exclude some people who may be eligible,” said Council Member Oliver Koppell, chair of the Council’s committee on disability issues.
Lourdes Rosa-Carrasquillo of the Center for Independence of the Disabled also expressed disapproval about the changes. “Cutbacks on Access-A-Ride and public transportation have created problems for many of our consumers. They have been experiencing problems getting to and from work,” she said.
Milagros Franco of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled raised concerns about payment for feeder service trips and asked whether riders with disabilities will be required to pay multiple fares by transferring from AAR to bus or subway to another AAR van.
The MTA announced the changes in response to a $383 million budget shortfall for 2010. The Access-A-Ride changes are expected to save the MTA $40 million this year and $80 million in 2011 when the changes are made more widely. The MTA contributes two-thirds of Access-A-Ride operating costs. Fifteen percent of AAR revenue comes from taxes on commercial real estate transactions, which have declined.
Smith said that given its size, it is “impossible” to balance the MTA’s deficit without including paratransit in service cuts.
This article was published in the November 2010 issue of Able News.